Napoleonic, WSS & ECW wargaming, with a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Wednesday 31 August 2016

Battle of Montgomery - the set up

Looking south, from the Parliamentarian position on the (unfordable)
River Camlad toward the town and castle of Montgomery. The Salt Bridge in
the foreground is rather more grand than the original.
I've now set up the battlefield for Montgomery (18th Sept 1644), as discussed a few posts ago. I hope to play the game this weekend, though one of my pencilled-in visiting generals appears to have vanished without trace - the scouts are out. If necessary, I'll play the game solo, though that hadn't been the intention.

It's a fairly small action, by my usual standards, so I intend to use a tweaked version of my CC_ECW game, with extensions to allow for some elements of tactical manoeuvre. The Command Cards will not be used, since the game is to be played end-to-end of the table (on the larger, 17 x 9 grid) - I'll use a dice-based activation system.

More soon.

Sir John Meldrum's Parliamentarian army - initial position, with Sir Wm
Fairfax on the left flank with the cavalry (which initially was to push
through to the castle with provisions).

Lord John Byron's Royalist force, near the town and castle. The road to
Welshpool snakes down the length of the table - note Col Mytton's
Parliamentarian garrison peeking over the battlements! The 
of the table between the roads and the river (far left in this picture) is 
classified as rough ground, since it contained many hummocks and boggy 
streams - slow going here.

Col Washington's dragoons, who fought as commanded shot

Royalist horse
Near-contemporary town plan - north (and the river) is to the right
View of the battlefield, from St Nicholas' church - the town had some walls,
but they were in a bad state of disrepair, so I have omitted them from the scenery.

Sunday 28 August 2016

Hooptedoodle #233 - Hannibal, Me, and Napoleon Makes Three

Useful hiker's map of the Zillertal area - our grand walk seems insignificant,
up in the top right hand corner, starting from the blue reservoir and heading
towards the corner
Yesterday we arrived back from our family holiday in Austria. We had a really great time, for a number of reasons, though it was a bit hotter than I find comfortable, and we have duly started sorting through our photographs. There's a sort of drill when we get home - check the house is OK, check the goldfish are still alive, switch the phones and the water heater back on, look at the mail, unpack the bags, put the dirty clothes in the laundry basket, and check we have enough to eat for the next 24 hours. This year we had the additional task of summoning the man from Lothian Pest Control to sort out a mighty wasps' nest in the roof space over the South Wing of the Chateau, and only after that did we have the time to check over our photos.

Funny things, holiday photographs - if you look through them as soon as you get home you see lots of stuff that is familiar because you have seen it very recently - it's basically just more of the same, and the tendency is to judge a photo by the quality of the composition (or something); a lot of them can get ditched because they aren't significantly interesting. Fine - now go and look at some holiday photos you have kept from 5, 10, maybe 20 years ago. Apart from the fact that everyone looks so much younger (ouch!), the pictures will leap at you, and will bring back places and events and feelings and people which would otherwise have been forgotten. What I am trying to say, I think, is that the criteria by which we judge very recent pictures are likely to overlook the main reason why we store away pictures at all - to jog the memory. Stryker recently commented here that once upon a time he carefully excluded his schoolmates from his snapshots of a school visit to the Tower of London, and now rather wishes he hadn't - with the passage of the years, those long-gone faces would be more interesting than the cold old stones of the Tower. I think that is significant - something to keep in mind.

One of the events we recorded in our photos from last week was a major hill walk on Wednesday - major by our own standards, that is. It was a wonderful day's outing which I shall certainly never forget, and as a result of it I am pleased to consider that I have joined a select group of people - some of them rather famous people - who have walked over the Alps into Italy. No matter that my route was not especially historic, nor that the definition of Italy for my purposes is rather new-fangled (post-1918) - that's close enough for me to claim Hannibal and Napoleon as potential drinking buddies. Also, if my own march lacked a bit of classical authenticity, I can claim the distinction of being older, by quite a bit, than my distinguished predecessors at the time of making the journey. Better and better.

We started by taking the public bus up a spectacular toll-road to the reservoir at Schlegeis - right up at the southern end of the Zillertal, and then trekked up the valley to Pfitscher Joch and the border with South Tyrol, which - thanks to President Wilson's crayon alterations to the maps at Versailles - is now in Italy. That probably sounds pretty unspectacular, but for a family day out this is tough going. The walk is about 5.5 miles each way, the start is at about 1700 metres and you climb up to something over 2200 metres. The path is rocky and steep in places, the temperature on Wednesday was about 30 deg Celsius, without a cloud in the sky, and the air is thin, offering reduced oxygen and pretty trifling protection from the sun. The trees gradually disappear as you climb, and there was still plenty of ice up on the hillsides - even in a heatwave in August. This is serious boots and walking poles and plenty of sun-cream, and no messing about. We took about 2-and-a-half hours on the way up, and a fraction under 2 on the way down. Marvellous - unforgettable views and a real sense of achievement for humble hikers like us - my knees are still stiff now!

The magical reservoir - what a place!

So off we go, climbing steadily...

...and the trees start to peter out, and it gets steeper...

...and more rugged...

...and steeper, and hotter...

...and we try not to think too much about the fact that the only way back
is the way we have come...

...and we drank about 2 bottles of water each - the stuff evaporates without trace...

...and eventually, with my Polar pulse-meter reading a steady 140+ because
of climbing in the thin air...

...we reached the border...

...courtesy of the Treaty of Versailles.

Here's a peek into Italy - I was interested to remember that Andreas Hofer and
many of his Tirolean rebels of 1809 would technically have been Italians
in the modern world. I wonder how they would have felt about that! 
Here are some of Hofer's pals on the monument in Innsbruck - doing
some serious skulking - it was a speciality.
We also did a few trips on the excellent narrow-gauge railway which
serves the Zillertal - it's efficient and it's cheap, though if you want to go
anywhere outside the valley you have to travel to Jenbach and get on to a
proper OBB train

And we did some cycling along the valleys - I have put my son's chain back in place
in some surprising locations, over the years.
It's always good to get some insights into someone else's culture.

The Catholic church is everpresent - the inescapable social, as well as spiritual,
core of the community. Here is the church of the little village of Hippach - this
was the weekend of the Ascension.

Moo. The Austrians manage to to make farming pay. After WW2, a great many
demobilised soldiers were given land grants to set up smallholdings - the
intention was that they would learn new skills, would feed their communities,
 and would eventually sell off the land and work on bigger farms. In fact, the
majority of the smallholdings are still there - the small farms were
kept in the families, and agriculture is the second most important industry,
 after tourism. The cost of living in Austria is not particularly high, but
farmers get about 28-30 euro cents a litre for milk, while their British
equivalents average about 19 pence (which is about 21 cents).
Differences? - subject for a lengthy debate, but the use of co-operatives and
the absence of chains of middle-men are contributors.
The rest is simply a series of things which amused me:

Not sure what this is (anyone remember Harry Worth on British TV?) - it seems
to be a very compact device for coming and going around town.

A warning of the potential dangers of walking on the river

...and of possible drastic measures for unathorised parking at the shoe shop. 

Here's an attractive sight for those who like their knackers smoked...

...but a street sign from the Old Town in Innsbruck reminds us of the need to avoid overindulgence.

Wednesday 24 August 2016

Hooptedoodle #232 - First Recognition at Last

My good friend Francisco Goya emailed me to report that this blog - this actual blog you are reading - is now blocked to passengers using the wi-fi on First buses in the UK, since it contains inappropriate content.

Good heavens. Whatever next. Etc.

My first reaction is that, since I was brought up to trust that responsible business corporations cannot possibly be wrong, First are almost certainly correct to take such action. Further, it pleases me to see that protection of the feelings and moral values of their customers should figure in First's strategic gameplan. Good for them.

I am not well placed at present to research just why I am off the official reading list, but I am free to play games in my mind, and to imagine some story which happens to suit me. I may look further into this, but I sincerely hope that First still allow their passengers to visit the website of The S*n, plus various dating agencies and gossip fora, to keep their views clean and patriotic.

I may not lose a lot of sleep over this.      

Monday 22 August 2016

The Battle of Montgomery, 18th Sept 1644 - Preamble

Aerial view of battle area - the photo came to me with incorrect 
details - please see Ubique Matt's comment below for orientation [thanks Matt!]
For a while now, I’ve been intrigued by this battle from the English Civil War. Within the last 3 years I have failed twice to visit the battlefield – just a little far from home for the time available on each occasion – so I have decided that the next best thing would be to have a go on the tabletop.

Not as a walkthrough - I have no appetite for that at all, but as a game which involves something like the correct forces and – more challenging – has a chance of reproducing the strange events of the real battle.

Strange? Well, the action is pretty much ignored in the standard histories, though, since it involved something close to 8000 men, it was by far the largest ECW battle to take place in Wales, and its result – a surprising and catastrophic defeat for the Royalist side - effectively ended Royalist influence in Wales, and had far-reaching consequences for the war elsewhere.

Max Foy’s Potted History of Montgomery:

(1) Royalists besieged Montgomery Castle – they had about 1500 horse, 3000 foot. Since they had no serious artillery, the siege was more a blockade than an attempt to break in.
(2) Parliamentarians arrived with about 1500 horse, 1500 foot, and, having seriously underestimated the Royalist numbers, set about pushing through a mounted force, to re-provision the garrison.
(3) Royalists attacked – downhill, across pretty open ground, and pushed their outnumbered opponents back towards the River Camlad, which could only be crossed at a single bridge on the Welshpool road.
(4) As they prepared to drive the enemy into the River, the Royalist forces suddenly suffered a major collapse of morale, and were routed from the field, losing all but about 100 of their foot troops in the pursuit.

Hmmm. The action is well documented, there are eye-witness reports and commentaries from individuals on both sides. The Royalist army was experienced and well officered, though their recent experience had been unhappy. Parliamentarian accounts claim the influence of the hand of God (which might explain a few things), but give great credit to the leadership efforts of a few of the senior officers, and, in particular, to the courage and vigour of Wm Fairfax’s Horse and Sir Wm Brereton’s Cheshire Regiment of Foot, who rallied with such ferocity that they turned the day. The Royalist writers take the opportunity to blame each other, and name specific units which broke and ran in a shameful manner. The message is consistent, if the details vary a little: one moment the  Royalists were on the brink of victory, then within a very short time they panicked and ran. The Battle of Montgomery is said to have lasted little more than an hour.

Interesting. I am currently on holiday (far away...) – I have some of my reading material with me, so homework can continue to an extent. I am focusing at present on the battlefield, and how best to represent it on the tabletop, on the OOBs (of which more in a moment) and how to allow for the kind of events which destroyed the Royalist attack.

Let’s look at this last bit first.

If I set up the armies as they appear on paper, and the Royalists proceed to push the (outnumbered) Parliament lot back into the River Camlad, few people would give the Parlies much chance. One way to give history a slight chance of repeating itself would be to allow some kind of fancy Chance Card event or a nuclear dice throw to stand the battle on its head. I don’t like this – the game is then obviously rigged, and it’s rigged in a manner which makes it pretty clear that there is something fundamentally wrong with my rules. I’d prefer it if there was some way of allowing for an inherent fragility in the Royalist army, veteran or not, and play the game as normal.

My rules, as ever, will be Commands & Colors based, though on this occasion the shape of the battlefield suggests to me that the forces will fight from the ends of the table rather than the long sides (which means I shall substitute a dice-based activation system for the Command Cards), and, since I am keen to have the town and castle at one end, I’ll use my bigger table size - 17 hexes by 9. At 200 paces across a hex, that’s pretty close to my estimate of 1.5 miles x 1 mile for the main field. My rules do allow for troops to be classified as Veteran or Raw, and maybe this gives me a way to address the problem. The regiments which are known to have disgraced themselves were all veterans, in the sense that they had been fighting for years, but the “Irish” [sic] units which came from the Shrewsbury garrison had mostly been badly mauled at both Nantwich and Marston Moor, and Tom Tyldesley’s horse had been through both of these and Ormskirk, where they had suffered considerably.

Given the hardships they must have been under and the big proportion of replacement recruits that must have been needed to make up the numbers, my inclination is to take a bit of a radical step, and mark a number of supposedly experienced units as Raw, which could well introduce the element of fragility I am looking for.

I’ll think further about this, but at least I can see a way ahead for the moment.

Order of Battle (with approximate strengths)

Royalist Army (John, Lord Byron of Rochdale)

Horse (Col. Mark Trevor)

Col Trevor’s RoH (500) – [from Chester Garrison]
Sir Wm Vaughan’s RoH (500)
Sir Thos Tydesley’s (Lancashire) RoH (500)

[I propose to rationalise this into 4 standard-size units of horse – Trevor’s, Vaughan’s and half of Tyldesley’s were with the main advance, on the right flank, while Byron kept part of Tyldesley’s back as a reserve, partly to defend the siegeworks near the castle]

Foot (Sir Michael Ernle)

Regts present from the Shrewsbury garrison were those of Col Robt Broughton, Col Henry Tillier, Col Henry Warren, Sir Michael Ernle and Sir Fulke Hunk – (total about 1500)

Col Robt Ellice’s (Welsh) RoF, Sir Michael Woodhouse’s ('Prince of Wales Regt') RoF and Col Henry Washington’s Dragoons (who fought on foot) – some of these were from the Chester garrison, brought by Byron (total about another 1500)

[it is thought that the Shrewsbury troops were combined into 2 battalia, with Hunk’s regiment as a reserve; I shall field 5 standard foot regiments, plus 1 of dragoons, serving as foot musketeers]

Parliamentary Army (Sir John Meldrum was nominal commander, but evidence suggests that the field command was a joint effort between Meldrum, Sir Wm Brereton and Sir Thos Myddleton)

Garrison of Montgomery (Col Thomas Mytton)

A few hundred foot from Mytton’s own regiment and that of Sir Thos Myddleton

Horse (Sir Wm Fairfax)

Sir Wm Fairfax’s (Yorkshire) RoH (400)
Lancashire Horse (Col. Nicholas Shuttleworth) (400)
Cheshire Horse (Maj. Jerome Zankey) (400)
Sir Thos Myddleton’s “brigade” (150)
Derbyshire Horse (Maj. Thos Sanders) (150)

[I’ll represent this lot by 4 standard regiments of horse – Myddleton’s and the Derbyshire Horse were probably merged]

Foot (Maj. James Lothian)

Sir Wm Brereton’s (Cheshire) RoF (500)
Col Geo Booth’s RoF (Cheshire) (500)
Col Henry Mainwaring’s RoF (500)

[on the face of it, this looks like 3 standard units of foot, though I am considering sneaking in a 4th unit to represent the “hand of God”!]

It seems that neither side had any significant artillery present – I shall ignore artillery, though the castle might have a gun or two, and the garrison of the castle certainly had plenty of ammunition.

I’ll describe the battlefield in more detail when I have better graphics facilities available!

That’s about as far as I’ve got, and that’s probably more than enough to be going on with. I am aware that the bold Jonathan Freitag, wargamer, cyclist and blogger extraordinaire, wrote up a couple of reports on a Montgomery game recently, so I’ll certainly check those out. I have found that searches for the Battle of Montgomery on Google produce an overwhelming amount of information about El Alamein!

Tuesday 16 August 2016

Hooptedoodle #231 - Conkers

Despite my intention to boycott them, I find I’ve been watching the Olympics after all. My problem with the games is threefold. These are, in order of inside leg measurement...

1. Hypocrisy – the laughable pretence that somehow this extravaganza binds together the nations of the drug abusing, bribery riddled sporting world. How we love boring and previously unknown sports if it turns out that our lot might be good at them!
2. The BBC (bless them) insist on presenting the Games as though they were somehow a sponsor, rather than a licence-money-consuming media corporation. In particular, the pre-scripted, screaming commentary which accompanies any medal success for Our Lot is rather heavy going – unless I was mistaken, some hysterical gentleman was informing me the other evening that the victory of one of Our Lot’s swimmers was a “life affirming moment” for all of us. Let’s be clear about this, I am proud of the swimmer, and I greatly admire individuals who dedicate their lives to doing something supremely well, but I have little time for the posturing hangers-on who use public money to get in the way of the spectacle.
3. The presence of a few sports which don’t seem to me to be Olympian. You can make your own list – golf seems an oddity to me – our own hero may well be required to compete against some foreign chaps who would certainly not be welcome at your local club. Discuss.

Anyway, you get the idea, and yet I find I am rather enjoying the track cycling at weird hours of the morning. I guess the Games must be OK, after all.

Some odd gaps in the list of events, though. There was recent mention of the noble game of Conkers on this blog – I can think of no finer presentation of skill and individual courage, and yet Conkers does not seem to be recognised as a sport at this level. Conkers, in case it goes by different names in different parts of the world, is combat in its most ancient form – warriors armed only with the fruit of the horse-chestnut tree, pierced and mounted on a string (that’s the chestnut, not the warrior). Admittedly, the sport is normally played only by 8-year-olds, and it is heavily seasonal, but it seems a sad omission from the Olympic programme.

There was recent comment about Conkers on this blog – not a celebration, but then you wouldn’t expect that. It was a more of a lament that the game has been unfairly suppressed, and for some pretty feeble reasons, too. One local school authority in England banned the game on health and safety grounds, apparently, insisting that Conkers-players should wear protective goggles and hand protection. It would be a sad thing, after all, if the teaching profession should be prosecuted over a playground accident. Some local branch of an English teaching union is also said to have claimed that Conkers is an example of the kind of competitive, elitist activity which has no place in an enlightened schoolyard.

I would have loved to be an accomplished Conkers player – alas, I was a very poor performer, though I used to turn up each season with large numbers of shiny new conkers (ready pierced, carried in an old shoe-bag with a drawstring), but I was one of the fringe players whose role was to provide cannon fodder to bolster the reputations and the tallies of the true heroes and gunslingers at our primary school. There were dark arts at play – apart from techniques, sometimes of debatable legality, there were all sorts of whispered formulae involving baking in the stove, pickling in vinegar (someone once mentioned saltpetre, though when pressed he didn’t know what saltpetre was, so this was dismissed as a lie) and all sorts of weird and wonderful secrets. On occasions a secret recipe was claimed to have been handed down from someone’s granddad, which is probably a testament to the traditions of the sport rather than the effectiveness of the treatment.

I recall that Kenneth Ikin had an unbeatable conker for a while – it was old, and battered, and grey, and as hard as wood. Kenneth’s supreme conker was much feared – when it was in its fourth season (I seem to recall that eventually it was a two-hundred-and-elevener, which is, let’s face it, awesome by any standards), Kenneth was forced to prowl about the playground, challenging the opposition, who were not exactly queueing up to be humiliated – as part of his warrior routine he would occasionally swing it on its string, and strike potential opponents on the head, as a call to joust. One lunchtime, as he searched for opposition, he idly took a swing at the cement capping on the low brick wall which supported the playground railings. I’m not sure what he expected, but Kenneth’s pride and joy disintegrated, with a sad, dry noise, and he was speechless. The entire school was subdued by the loss – it might have been a life-affirming moment, if we had them in those days, but there was a vague feeling that we should have given it a Viking funeral, if we could have found any bits large enough to burn.

Now, half a century and 250 miles away from St Michael’s-in-the-Hamlet County Primary school’s Burdett Street playground, I live close to a chestnut tree which would have guaranteed me admittance to the inner circle of gunfighters – I have never seen such conkers, for either numbers or quality. Maybe I should take up the sport again. Tricky that – past discussions have revealed that not only the technical terminology but also the actual rules (how to treat a straight miss, punish a non-stationary target, sort out tangled strings, all that) were obviously heavily regional and varied from place to place.

I wonder what sort of protective goggles we’d have to use? Hmmm. Needs more thought.

Sunday 7 August 2016

Hooptedoodle #230 - Donkey Award - John Lewis' Technology Dept

Oh no - here we go again.

Since my old Windows netbook is no longer supported, I have purchased a Samsung tablet to take on my travels, so I should be reachable (assuming I have wi-fi). I'm pleased with the tablet - only snag at the moment is that I am having some fiddly problems with email - if I send an email from the device, everything gets into the right folders on my email server, so that I can see it on my phone and on my iMac, but the actual wording in the mails sent from the tablet gets repeated for some reason I am trying to work out. 

If you get an email from me which seems to say the same thing twice, then it will be from my tablet. 

If you get an email from me which seems to say the same thing twice, then it will be from my tablet. You get the idea.

Buying the tablet was a refreshing exercise - I had a fair idea what I was looking for, so went into John Lewis' Edinburgh store early yesterday, since I was on my way to Claymore in Granton. It is very clear that old guys with white hair and tweed sports jackets are either invisible or don't fit some marketing profile which features in whatever training they give the staff these days. I was there about 9:05am, and by about 9:15 I was ready to be helped to buy something.

Bizarre. Every time I approached a member of sales staff, they would avoid eye contact and move into a conversation with a colleague. This happened a few times - I was beginning to wonder if I should try jumping up and down, or singing Old Man River while standing on top of the TV display. Eventually, after about another 10 minutes,  I got someone from another department to persuade one of the sales people to condescend to speak to me. Very young chap appeared, with skin-tight trousers and rather unusual hair. Not bloody interested. Also, to be frank, didn't know very much - probably knew little more than I did, but managed to retain his cosmic cool throughout. Eventually he was pleased to get me a Samsung tablet from stock, selected a generic hard-shell case for the device for me, then handed me off without a further word to a colleague at a check-out till. This colleague wasn't interested either, but at least he made some businesslike noises - he gave me the wrong information about guarantee details, processed the sale and - presumably - returned to chat with his mates.

I left feeling oddly depressed - this dismal experience cost me a fair amount of money, of course, though I am pleased enough with the device. My feelings about the episode are not helped by the fact that the hard case recommended and supplied is the wrong one - it is specifically for an iPad of the same screen size, but the iPad has all its orifices in different places, of course. No matter - I shall return the case to Edinburgh for a full refund - when it suits me to do so - and I shall buy the correct case from someone else. Someone a little more professional.

The technology section in JL is tricky these days - they deploy various external specialists in logo-bearing sweaters (the Apple man, the Samsung man, the Sony man etc), but they may not be in attendance until later than my visit yesterday, and the other (generic?) JL sales staff seem to have less familiarity with the kit than they used to. This is all a pity - I have always liked the shop, and I have bought a lot of stuff from them over the years, including technology (my current iMac, and the computers of my wife and my son all came from there within the last couple of years). As a matter of principle, I would like to approve of JL and be a faithful customer, but they keep demonstrating that they don't care a great deal, and I keep promising myself I shall not go back.

Disappointing, really. 


Tuesday 2 August 2016

Hooptedoodle #229 – Donkey Award – Main Dealer Auto Servicing

After receiving some justifiable criticism from Musaeus, I am cutting down the number of rants on this blog. Today, however, I am pretty mad, so please regard what follows as a kind of helpful public information service, rather than just a mindless stream of bile.

I own a Mitsubishi ASX – I have had it now for 3-and-a-half years. It is an ideal vehicle for me – economical to run, well engineered and built, and provides optional 4WD for the bad weather (we can get a bit stranded at times in the Winter). I bought it new from our nearest dealership (which is some 40 miles from here), not least because they offered me an attractive trade-in price on my old Mitsu pick-up. When I bought it, one of the add-on lollipops was a cheap, pay-up-front offer on regular servicing - £200 on the purchase price secured me free annual services for 3 years. Since the warranty more or less cements you into main-dealer servicing for 3 years anyway, it seemed a reasonable deal, so I went for it.

The car does not do much of a mileage – my wife has her own car, and I also run a van, so the ASX has done about 23,000 miles from new, in three and a half years. Last week we drove in it down to Cheshire and North Wales, and by the time we got back on Friday there was something decidedly odd about the brakes. So yesterday I handed the vehicle over to the garage in our village, with whom I have had a long and positive relationship, and they fixed it and reported back. I have not yet seen their bill, so I may be even madder in a few days.

Now, our local garageman is a decent fellow – he is aware that if he cheats his regular customers in an area of low population then he will soon have no customers. Since everyone in the county knows or is related to just about everyone else, you can be pretty sure that word will get around. As a local builder once told me, if I do a good job for you, you might just tell someone, but if I do a bad job you’ll tell everyone – it’s a different world in the country, brothers. Howard the Local Garage Man is also professional enough to avoid criticising the competition, since such an activity simply gives the entire motor trade a bad rep. However, on this occasion he told me a few things which cast a dark shadow on the special main-dealer service deals which come with new cars.

The third and final pre-paid service on my car was carried out by the dealer at the end of January, at which time it also passed what is known for historic reasons in this country as the MOT test (a mechanical and safety check which is required annually for vehicles 3 years old or older). Since that January service it has travelled about 2,500 miles – not a lot. According to Howard, my car returned from Wales with its front brake disks rusted and pitted, the pads wrecked, and the rear brakes seized solid with rubbish and corrosion. There was no evidence of any lubrication being carried out on the braking system at any time since the vehicle was new; Howard was also astonished that the car could have passed inspection at the January MOT, given the state that the brakes must have been in 2,500 miles ago, but then the dealer carried out the test. Hmmm.

Anyway, it is now fixed, and I shall enjoy driving in comfort and improved safety, and I shall grit my teeth and pay Howard’s bill as part of what is required to keep my personal transport on the road – convenience has its cost. The bit that really grates (apart from the pitted brake disks) is the almost complete worthlessness of the cheap servicing package on a new car. The factory warranty forces the customer to return it to the dealer for maintenance anyway, an effect which is exacerbated by the inevitable series of peculiar safety recalls – “next time you return the vehicle for servicing, your dealer will carry out a necessary, free safety check on the bolts in the bonnet hinges – etc.” (this was a Renault example, but it will serve). In short, they have you by the dangly bits.

During the first three years of a car’s life – especially for a low-mileage vehicle such as mine – the servicing is likely to be cheap and routine. Any exceptions to this are likely to be covered by the manufacturer’s warranty, so I appear to have had three oil changes, fluid level checks and maybe the odd new filter for my £200. Oh, and maybe the lad gave it a wash with the power jet. At the end of my first 23,000 miles with the car, it seems the brakes may have been untouched and in an unsafe state.

Not great is it? Now that the warranty period is over, I shall be very pleased to go back to getting all my servicing done locally – Howard has never let me down.  

Tey Pottery Buildings – Another Back-Door Collection

A couple of people have expressed interest in the ceramic buildings which I used in my ECW siege testing a couple of months ago. For the most part, these were made by the Tey Pottery company, now defunct, which operated from various locations in Norfolk. The range of which I seem to have become an accidental collector is the Britain in Miniature series, which suits my purposes admirably.

Tey Pottery "Britain in Miniature" - Grannie would have been delighted. The
white-backed buildings in the background make effective town blocks - the
textured-all-round items nearer the camera are more suitable for standalone pieces
I didn’t really need another unofficial collection, but I am pleased with what I’ve obtained, and have consciously cut down on purchasing now, in the sense that I am very picky about what I go for. I note that at the start of this year I wasn’t sure at all about the viability for the wargames table of items primarily intended for your grannie’s sideboard – these are ornaments, let’s make that quite clear – pottery knick-knacks, and they are neither serious models nor exactly accurate.

Some points (for and against) and things to watch for, if you have half a mind to acquire some of these miniatures:

(1) They suit me perfectly – they have a cheerful, almost playful brio which I find very appropriate to accompany toy soldiers – the Britain in Miniature (BiM) series are (mostly) to an approximately constant(ish) scale which I would describe as “smallish 15mm”. I deliberately use underscale buildings with my 20mm figures, because the smaller footprint is more acceptable (given the constant paradox of incompatible ground and figure scales), and because I believe a cluster of undersized houses looks more like a village than a single representative structure which matches the figure scale.

(2) Tey’s BiM range – if you are selective – will fit nicely in a 17th Century setting. The buildings are, mostly, what in ship model terms would be called “waterline” representations, without bases or landscaping, and can be combined into effective town blocks which would be difficult and expensive to achieve otherwise. Be careful with sizes – the churches are too small for my taste, and the Countryside Collection and a few others contain smaller-scale items – anything which is obviously a generic cottage usually will not match.

(3) They are readily available and splendidly cheap – on eBay you can pick up nice examples for just a few pounds (they are available on US eBay, too though slightly dearer). Typically, I obtained lots for about 3 to 5 pounds each, and was the only bidder. On occasions, an attractive off-catalogue or commissioned item will attract heavier bids, so I normally duck out when the going gets tough. It’s only a hobby, for goodness’ sake…

(4) They are ornaments – they are delicate (though not too bad, if you store them sensibly) and they are glazed to a high gloss. Being a very bad person, I give them two coats of acrylic matt medium – if I need to do any touching up, or obliterate any anachronistic shop or pub signs, I can do that with acrylics between the varnish coats. I expect serious Tey collectors to be outraged by my destruction of their collectors’ value by this varnish business, but these things are plentiful, the value is not great and they are mine anyway (heh heh) – consider it equivalent to converting original Hinton Hunt figures!

(5) Some serious bad news – many of these pieces are untextured and plain white on the back, so have to be placed with care to make a convincing street scene, but this doesn’t cause me any difficulty. This can be a fairly confusing aspect of collecting Tey buildings – some of them are textured and painted all round – these tend to be detached-style buildings rather than sections of town blocks – and I mostly go for these now if I can. Some of the buildings have changed during their production history, so I have (reluctantly) been forced to learn more about the catalogues than I might have wished – in particular, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage appeared in a number of versions, some of which had plain white backs and some, like mine, are finished all round. Yes, I know, this is getting nerdy. 

So, overall, if they suit your purposes (or porpoises – thank you, Jonathan), these guys are cheaper and handier and quicker to deploy than wargames-specific  resin buildings, lighter and more robust (and less irritatingly cute) than Lilliput Lane or David Winter houses (though I cherish a fair few of those, too), and I find they bring a pleasing, colourful vibe to my siege activities, which really benefit from a bit of scenic interest. I still need specialist Hovels houses and similar, but as a bulk buy to make an easy, flexible town the Tey houses are great. Buy them selectively, keeping a careful eye on sizes and they do a nice job. For matching churches, I have found the most satisfactory source is the products of Sulley’s Ceramics, but these are rarer and more expensive.

At a whimsical level, I find it deeply amusing to set up a town which features Shakespeare’s birthplace, the Bronté family’s parsonage, the Rows of Chester, the Siege House (Colchester),  John Knox’s House (Edinburgh), and all manner of famous tourist sites – all in the same spot. Fantastic – I should wheel out one of my miniature tour buses to show off the rich heritage! I am cutting down on watching eBay now, but I keep an eye open for Anne of Cleves’ House, the Mermaid Inn and a few others. No – of course I am not a collector.